Piri Weepu will play his 100th Super Rugby game against his old franchise the Hurricanes when the two teams clash in Wellington.
All Black scrum-half Piri Weepu will play his 100th Super Rugby game against his old franchise the Hurricanes when the two teams clash in Wellington on Saturday.
It will also be a special evening for centre Rene Ranger as he celebrates a significant career achievement in reaching his milestone 50th game for the Blues.
Blues coach Sir John Kirwan said it would be a special night for two of his most experienced players.
“It's a special achievement for Piri in front of his whanau and against his old team. It was an emotional place for him to leave but we're proud he'll be playing his 100th Super Rugby game for us in front of his family with his new family,” he said.
“We've also got Rene's 50th game. He's a Blues man and played every single one of his 50 games with us so it's a special night for him too. It's just really important that all the guys do their jobs, these milestones are important and they're important if we put in a good performance.”
Chris Noakes has been given the nod at fly-half ahead of Baden Kerr and will make his first appearance in a Blues jersey, while Culum Retallick will also play his first game for the Blues at lock.
Kirwan said the decision to pick his starting pivot was particularly difficult.
“There was some really good competition there,” he said.
“I think Chris brings us that experience we need and he's driving the football team well.
“Baden has just really improved week after week. He came into the side and was probably not expressing himself as well as he could, but he's certainly been living up to our motto 'better never stops' so there's good pressure.”
Powerful Counties-Manukau wing Frank Halai will make his Super Rugby debut.
On the bench, Brendon O'Connor, Bryn Hall and Baden Kerr are poised to make their Super Rugby debuts, while Quentin MacDonald and Jackson Willison may also make their first appearances in a Blues jersey.
Kirwan said he was expecting a fierce challenge from a strong Hurricanes outfit.
“It's a good side. They've come off a couple of rebuilding years and they're feeling like they're ready to explode so I put them as firm favourites and us as underdogs so we've got nothing to lose,” he said.
“We're going to go out there, express ourselves and enjoy it.”
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (c), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Date: Saturday, February 23
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)